Selle Francais Horse Origin and Characteristics

The Selle Francais horse comes from France and is an excellent sporting horse breed. It excels in show jumping, but there have been successful horses in eventing and dressage as well. The Selle Francais stands out because of its fantastic gaits, athletic appearance, and overall durability.

Although the Selle Francais is bred throughout France, global exports have expanded the reach of this breed since the 1960s. Stud books have been formed in the United States and the UK to help support this breed. Horses registered in other breeds may qualify to register as a Selle Francais as well, depending upon their heritage and conformation.

Dual registrations are limited to Arabians, Thoroughbreds, French Trotters, and Anglo-Arabians. Technically, however, and horse that is a sporting-type that can pass the Selle Francais conformation judging and tests is a potential candidate for registration. 

For a horse to be registered, it must be from either two Selle Francais horses or a cross between a registered horse and what is known as a “facteur de Selle Francais,” or a horse that has passed the selection process for the stud book. Nationality of the horse is one of the qualification criteria that is considered by the breed’s approval committee.

What Is the History of the Selle Francais Horse?

In the 19th century, Thoroughbreds were brought into Normandy to begin crossbreeding with local mares. Some Norfolk Trotters were brought to the region for the same purpose. The goal at the time was fairly simple: to create a strong military horse that could also be used for carriage work and some agricultural work.

By the start of the 20th century, these horses were referred to as “half-bloods.” Most French regions had half-bloods working in them, but each was a different type because of the different needs of each region. Every region kept track of their half-blood horses, but there were three primary regional books: Caen, Cluny, and La Roche-sur-Yon.

In 1958, it was decided that all the regional half-blood books should be combined together to form one specific breed. That was how the Selle Francais breed was founded. Literally the “French Saddle Horse,” this sporting-type horse was an effort to show that recreational uses for a horse were just as important as the working-type horses that were needed before the era of mechanization began.

Since 1958, the only purpose of the Selle Francais has been to be a sport horse. Breeding efforts have worked to refine the physical qualities of the breed, helping it to become highly competitive on the international circuit. It wouldn’t be until 2003, however, that a breed association would be formally approved by the French Government to oversee continued development of the breed.

Much of the activity around the Selle Francais breed centers around Caen and Normandy today as there is a preference to promote the Anglo-Norman lines of this breed.

More than 7,500 farms are reporting breeding activity with the Selle Francais, but over 75% of those farms only have a single mare. About 7,500 foals are born each year, with about 500 active stallions within the breed, and artificial insemination has helped to refined blood lines throughout the world.

Argentina, Brazil, and Morocco also have breeding programs in place, but their horses are registered to the French stud book.

When the breed association was approved for the Selle Francais, the stud book was divided into two components. The first was a section for new horses that had a parentage of two already registered parents. The second section was for foals that came from one registered parent and one that had passed the breed standard. Just as the regional stud books were combined in 1958 to form the breed, the two sections were combined into a single stud book once again in 2009. 

Characteristics of the Selle Francais Horse

There is a wide variety of genetic characteristics in the Selle Francais breed, so there are no set breed standards. The breed does have some generic guidelines that are expected for conformation, but nothing more at this time. The range of height in this breed can be up to 17.3 hands or as small as 15.1 hands. On average, a registered Selle Francais will be at least 16 hands high.

The horse should also have a powerful gait that is well-balanced and works in harmony with its natural movements. Because it is a sporting horse breed, the forehead is typically broad and the facial profile is straight, though convex profiles are also permitted. The next is long and strong, with a straight back and a longer-than-average croup.

The chest should be deep, the shoulders long, and there should be a slight slope. Power in the hindquarters should be displayed, evidenced by harder hooves than average and joints that are wider than average.

Most Selle Francais horses are either chestnut or bay in coat color because of the Anglo-Norman lineage that is found in many of the individuals of this breed. White markings are common with this breed as well, especially around the feet. Gray horses are sometimes seen because of the Anglo-Arabian and Thoroughbred influences that are within the Selle Francais. 

Physical ability has been the primary component of breeding preferences within this breed since its founding, so individual horses display a wide range of temperaments. Criteria for temperament in judging and conformation are under development, but not a judging standard as of 2017. Most horses within this breed have a spirited personality, but tend to be patient and quiet when it comes time to work. They are extremely friendly and very intelligent horses.

To qualify for registration, conformation, gait, and performance are scored for the horse. The total scores in each category are then compared to the national averages that have been cataloged. Horses that fall beneath the average have a more difficult journey toward breed registration, but not impossible. Scores can be updated based on changes to training or performance over time.

The Selle Francais horse may be one of the newer additions to the equine world, but its sporting emphasis has a history that goes back to the 19th century. It is one of the few French horses that never had breeding influences for food production as well, which has helped to keep the look and characteristics of the breed well-refined. 

It is an excellent sporting horse which has a bright future on the horizon.